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WOKE

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GAMING

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DIGITAL CHALLENGES TO
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OPPRESSION AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE


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Edited by
Kishonna L. Gray and
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David J. Leonard
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University of Washington Press


Seattle

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[[Subventions TK]]

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Copyright © 2018 by the University of Washington Press

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Printed and bound in the United States of America
Cover design by TK

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Interior design by Katrina Noble
Composed in [[TK]], typeface designed by [[TK]]
Cover illustration: Virtual reality (or VR) glasses outline vector icon (Atstock

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­Productions/Shutterstock.com)

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22  21  20  19  18   5  4  3  2  1
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording,
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or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publisher.
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University of Washington Press


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www.washington.edu/uwpress
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Names: Gray, Kishonna L., editor. | Leonard, David J., editor.
Title: Woke gaming : digital challenges to oppression and social injustice / edited
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by Kishonna L. Gray and David J. Leonard.


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Description: Seattle : University of Washington Press, 2018. | Includes b


­ ibliographical
references and index. |
Identifiers: LCCN 2018010422 (print) | LCCN 2018016086 (ebook) |
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ISBN 9780295744193 (ebook) | ISBN 9780295744186 (hardcover : alk. paper) |


ISBN 9780295744179 (pbk. : alk. paper)
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Subjects: LCSH: Video games—Social aspects. | Video games—Moral and ethical


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aspects. | Violence in video games. | Sex in video games.


Classification: LCC GV1469.34.S52 (ebook) | LCC GV1469.34.S52 W65 2018 (print) |
DDC 794.8—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018010422

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For those who are tirelessly working to transform gaming culture

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We believe in you
We appreciate you

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CONTENTS

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Acknowledgments  000

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Introduction. Not a Post-Racism and Post-Misogyny Promised Land:
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Video Games as Instruments of (in)Justice
Kishonna L. Gray and David J. Leonard  000
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Part 1. Ethics, Violence, and Oppositional Gaming


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Chapter 1. The Corporeal Ethics of Gaming: Vulnerability, Mobility,


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and Social Gaming


Rob Cover  000
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Chapter 2. Power, Violence, and the Mask: Representations of


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­Criminal Subjectivities in Grand Theft Auto Online


Timothy Rowlands, Sheruni Ratnabalasuriar,
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Melissa Hobart, Kyle Noel, Shaun-Patrick Allen,


Briana Reed, and Anthony Gonzales  000
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Part 2. Economics of Gaming


Chapter 3. The Post-Feminist Politics of the “Everyone Can Make
Games Movement”
Stephanie Orme  000

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Chapter 4. Smart Play: Social Stereotypes, Identity Building,
and Counter Narratives of Gold Farmers in China
Zixue Tai and Fengbin Hu  000

Part 3: Feminist Gaming


Chapter 5. The Sobering Reality of Sexism in the Video Game

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Industry

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Stanislav Vysotsky and Jennifer Allaway   000

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Chapter 6. The Perpetual Crusade: Rise of the Tomb Raider,

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Religious Extremism, and the Problem of Empire

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Kristin M.C Bezio  000
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Chapter 7. Nancy Drew and the Case of Girl Games
Andrea Braithwaite   000
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Chapter 8. The Horrors of Transcendent Knowledge:


A Feminist-Epistemological Approach to Video Games
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Stephanie Jennings  000


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Part 4: Gaming Against the Grain


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Chapter 9. Playing with Pride: Claiming Space Through


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Community Building in World of Warcraft


Karen Skardzius   000
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Chapter 10. Curate Your Culture: A Call for Social Justice-Oriented


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Game Development and Community Management


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Amanda C. Cote   000

Chapter 11. The Legends of Zelda: Fan Challenges to Dominant


Video Game Narratives
Kathryn Hemmann  000

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Part 5: Empathetic and Inclusive Gaming
Chapter 12. Avatars: Addressing Racism and Racialized Address
Robbie Fordyce, Timothy Neale, and Tom Apperley  000

Chapter 13. Activism in Video Games: A New Voice for Social Change
Taylor Anderson-Barkley and Kira Fogleson  000

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Chapter 14. DiscrimiNation: A Persuasive Board Game to Challenge

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Discriminatory Justifications and Prejudices

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Maresa Bertolo, Ilaria Mariani, and Eleonora
­Alberello Conti  000

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List of Contributors  000
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Index  000
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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Of course, first and foremost, we would like to thank the contributors to
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this collection. None of this would be possible had you not chosen to share
your brilliance, your intellectual labor, and your scholarly insights in this
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collection. This collection is truly a team effort. In an environment where
gamers and academics, for entirely different reasons, rebuff, scoff, and
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criticize critical game studies, you continue to courageously speak truths


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that demand more from gaming, from gamers, from the academy, and
from society as a whole. Thank you for trusting us and for the work you
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continue to do inside and outside of game studies


Second, thank you to everyone at University of Washington Press who
provided us with this important platform. Thanks especially to Larin
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McLaughlin for being the editorial G.O.A.T. You not only helped usher
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through this project but also did so in a way that you always asked the
necessary questions to allow us and all the contributors to fulfil our pur-
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pose within and beyond gaming.


We would both like to thank the many scholars in game studies who
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paved the way for critical discussions about video games. We are grateful
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for the work and for your courage in carving out a space for important
research on games, gaming communities, and gamers.
From DJL: I would like to specifically thank Dr. Kishonna L. Gray. Sev­
eral years back, Kishonna asked me to write the foreword to her important
book Race, Gender, and Deviance in Xbox Live: Theoretical Perspectives
from the Virtual Margins. Before receiving this request, for a variety of

xi

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reasons, I had basically stopped writing and researching about video
games. Her request brought me back to the work. More than this, her
work inspired me to revisit past works and continue this research. The
ability to collaborate with you on this project has been a blessing. So thank
you. I am grateful to call you a collaborator and a co-editor; I am grateful
because you are someone I learn from each and every day, because you
are a friend for life.

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DJL would also like to thank Rich King, Lisa Guerrero, Carmen Lugo-

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Lugo, Mary Bloodsworth-Lugo, Paula Groves-Price, Bryan Fry, Mark
Anthony Neal, Ebony Utley, Danielle Heard, Stacey Patton, Aureliano

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Desoto, Theresa Runstedtler, Safiya Umoja Noble, Gaye Theresa Hohnson,
Jeffrey McCune, Nitasha Sharma, Ayana Jackson, Camille Dubose, Danielle

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Dirks, Jasbir Puar, Vernadette Gonzalez, Mark Padoongpatt, Sarah Jack-

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son, Mary Yu Danico, Deborah Whaley, Heidi Renée Lewis, Darnell L.
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Moore, Jlove Calderon, Alexandro José Gradilla, Cindy Wu, Stephanie
Troutman, Jared Sexton, and Dylan Rodriguez, who are not only peers and
hi
sources of support and inspiration but family.
I would also like to thank my students, whose work, whose daily con-
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tributions, and whose “freedom dreams” inspire me in so many ways.


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Everything I do, from the classroom to the scholarly workbench, is because


of what I see from you each and every day. Thank you Basheera, Malik,
Monae, Christina, Chijioke, Terlona, Bruce, Terlona, Kaila, Simone, Alexis,
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Cameron, and so many others.


And finally, thanks to my family, whose support for the work here
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and elsewhere not only allows such research to happen but gives me hope
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that tomorrow will be better than today. Your work continues to raise
con­sciousness and awareness, inspiring gamers and game studies to rei-
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magine a world that we not only love but also want to love even more.
From Kishonna: I would first like to thank Dr. David J. Leonard.
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Without your amazing scholarship in race and video games, I would not
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have embarked on this beautiful journey. I remember being told that this
scholarship didn’t exist in the mid-2000s, and then I came across your
piece, “Live in your World, Play in Ours.” It literally changed my life. I saw
what the possibilities were and knew that I could also be an innovator
in this field. I would be remiss to not mention the other people I feel are
pioneers in this field: André Brock, Lisa Nakamura, Samantha Blackmon,

xii Acknowledgments

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 12 6/15/18 11:02 AM


TreaAndrea Russworm, Anna Everett, and so many others that I know
I’m missing. Please forgive me! I thank you.
I would also like to personally thank Dr. T. L. Taylor for believing in
me and my work and inviting me to come hang with you at MIT for a year!
I would also like to thank the other amazing individuals who supported
me and my research while at MIT: Helen E. Lee, Emily Neill, Sophia
Hasenfus, and the entire SHASS family.

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And also a special shout out to individuals at the Microsoft Research

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Collective: Nancy Baym, Mary L. Gray, Tarleton Gillespie, and all the other
dope individuals who make up the Social Media Collective. I would also

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to thank my Berkmaster (LOL), Rebecca Tabasky, and the wonderful
Berkman-Klein community for pushing the limits and effecting change.

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We will save the Internet!!!

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To the amazing crew of “Not Your Mama’s Gamer”: Sam, Alex, Alisha,
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Charlotte, Bianca, Jynx, Lee, Ashley, and all the other dope folks that
make NYMG great—I love y’all. I just have one question—what you
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drinking??!!!
And of course, my homies from the dark web!! LOL. Catherine Knight-
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Steele, Andre Brock, Sarah Florini, Jenny Korn, Khadijah Costley White,
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Miriam Sweeney, and Lois Scheidt. I appreciate y’all’s never ending


support!
I would also like to thank my beautiful family—Kayland, Anteaus, and
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Jay—for inspiring me every day. Game Over FAM!!!!


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Acknowledgments  xiii

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WOK E GA MING

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I NTRO DU CTIO N

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Not a Post-Racism and Post-Misogyny Promised Land:

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Video Games as Instruments of (In)Justice

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Kishonna L. Gray and David J. Leonard

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B to
reaking News: November 15, 2017
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Amid the daily reminders on our social media feeds that racism
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and sexism remain defining forces in our culture, there are also moments
of respite. Out of the constant turmoil that Black women experience
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around hair, the release of an immersive and interactive game provided


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a glimmer of hope in the fall of 2017. Created by Momo Pixel, Hair Nah
allows players to customize an avatar who can “smack away as many white
hands” as possible as they attempt to touch locs, twists, braids, and
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relaxed Black hair (Callahan 2017).


Not surprisingly, the game quickly went viral. Both the game and its
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resonance captured a convergence of powerful contemporary racial and


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gendered dynamics and histories, from Black hair politics to the history
of white supremacy as it relates to the hyperpolicing and surveillance of
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Black women’s bodies, from the daily toll of racial microaggressions Black
women face to the exhaustion of our current political moment.
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Yet the game’s power reflects its rejection of these histories and its
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embrace of a virtual and physical clapback. As a game produced and devel-


oped by a Black woman, the shock, surprise, and hope resulting from the
release of the game speaks to the whiteness of the video game industry
and the systemic refusal to give voice to the experience of Black women.
The game’s intervention, centering of Blackness, and embrace of resistance
all embody the game’s refusal of erasure. From its conception to reception,

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I .1. A screenshot of gameplay from Momo Pixel’s game, Hair Nah, showing hands
being swatted away from a Black woman’s hair. Courtesy of Momo Pixel
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Hair Nah exemplifies the yearning for transformative games. By centering


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the experiences of Black women, the existence of such a game is disruptive


in itself as it illustrates the power and potential to use video games, online
technology, and game culture to give voice to the experience of Black
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women and other marginalized communities, resisting and otherwise


challenging dehumanizing representations. The game and its narrative
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construction locate structural oppression in the everyday. Playing this


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game highlights the power and potential of resistance of everyday and


systemic violences within everyday cultural engagement. This game cap-
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tured the essence of the why and the how of the current text.
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Gamers, Not Haters


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We, the editors of this collection, are gamers. We play video games; we
enjoy games and have done so for a very long time. We are also scholars,
teachers, and critics who have long been uneasy about the costs and con-
sequences of the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia within game culture.
As a Black female scholar (Dr. Kishonna Gray) and a White male scholar

4 Introduction

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(Dr. David J. Leonard) with varied experiences and different vantage
points, we have both seen the toxicity and violence that pervade gaming
as well as the individualized and systemic harm gaming culture sustains.
From Gamergate to the white grievance politics of the 2016 US election,
to the daily experiences of female gamers and those of color, the ways
gaming is entangled with mainstream cultures of systematic exploitation
and oppression is clear. While video games may be a distraction to some

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communities and a source of power and pleasure to others, they can at

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times also be a source of violence, oppression, pain, and trauma. Our
identities shape these complex and messy relationships with games.

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Like the contributors to this volume, we enter into the world of video
games with our own identities and experiences intact. Our disparate

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social locations and varied privileges shape our relationship to gaming

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and gaming’s relationship to us. From the Internet to the constructive
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worlds of virtual gameplay, the digital world offers spaces of play and
freedom in a post-ism promised land of equality and justice, but our expe-
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riences reveal the fissures found within those spaces.
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Do Black Lives Matter?


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From stereotypical representations that hypersexual women to depicting


people of color in stereotypical ways, video games have the power to per-
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petuate injustice (Malkowski and Russworm 2017). Associated gaming


communities across console and computer games of all genres also fuel
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toxic practices of antisocial behavior, racism, heterosexism, and misogy-


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nistic language in in-game chats. At one level, video games mirror and
embody the injustices we see throughout popular culture and in society
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at large. For example, by signalling the impossibility of survival for Black


and Brown men, the opening mission within Battlefield 1 illustrates this
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trend. This first-person, World War I military shooting game allows the
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player to engage as a member of the Harlem Hellfighters. Given the era-


sure of soldiers of color within war games as well as popular culture as a
whole, there was initially much praise around the inclusion of this regi-
ment, comprised of Black men who identified mostly as African American
and Puerto Rican. The game, however, still forces death upon the player,
even remarking in the opening sequence that survival is not an option.

Introduction  5

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Upon the first death, a screen appears providing a fictional name and
timeline of life for the gamer to preview.
The gamer then spawns the life of another Harlem Hellfighter, and
he too succumbs to the violences of war. This trend continues throughout
the game, causing many Black gamers on social media to reflect on their
uncomfortableness witnessing and experiencing hypervisible Black
Death. We liken this pattern within Battlefield I to the present era of

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consuming and sharing Black Death via associated hashtags, where we

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witness the final moments of Black and Brown life without context or a
historic backdrop (e.g., #PhilandoCastile, #EricGarner, #TamirRice). The

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humanity of Black lives is lost, reducing life to the spectacle of Black
Death. The pleasure in and normalization of Black Death is not limited

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to historical games. And the dialectics between gaming and entrenched

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social injustice is not limited to how games explicitly teach white suprem-
acist ideologies.
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Whether visible in the persistent color line that shapes the produc-
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tion, dissemination, and legitimization of dominant stereotypes within
the industry itself, or in the dehumanizing representations commonplace
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within digital spaces, video games encode the injustices that pervade
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society as a whole. According to Williams, Martins, Consalvo, and Ivory,


gaming is a space defined by the “systematic over-representation of
males, white and adults and a systematic under-representation of
of

females, Hispanics, Native Americans, children and the elderly” (2009,


815). The criminalization of Black and Brown bodies throughout society
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in general and video games specifically, and the profiling of Black and
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Brown gamers that is endemic to gaming culture, illustrates not only how
race operates within video games but the dialectics between the virtual
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and the lived, the spaces of play and the spaces of the everyday.
Gaming imagines a world of good and evil, of domination and annihila-
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tion, where whiteness and American manhood characterize protectors and


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heroes—values not afforded the pixelated Harlem Hellfighters in Battle­


field 1. In this way, games provide a training ground for the consumption
of narratives and stereotypes as well as opportunities to become instru-
ments of hegemony; they offer spaces of white male play and pleasures,
and create a virtual and lived reality where white maleness is empowered
to police and criminalize the Other. Games provide opportunities to both

6 Introduction

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learn and share the language of racism and sexism, and the grammar of
empire, all while perpetuating cultures of violence and privilege.
Yet despite the ubiquitous violence within video games, gaming also
offers a potential space for change—for a different kind of gaming. As
noted by Helen Young, in “Racial Logics, Franchising, and Video Game
Genres: The Lord of the Rings,” video games “can also be designed to
address racial stereotyping and ‘get a person to understand one’s self-

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concept and aspects of a culture that may be different to one’s own’’ (Lee

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2013, 147). Fantasy video games, moreover, can challenge white hegemo-
nies. Within online game worlds, the technology, communities of gamers,

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and digital reality itself are important and potentially powerful tools for
broader fights for social justice.

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Reimaging Reality: Virtual Freedom Dreamers
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We see the ample potential and possibility of gaming culture. We see the
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ways that people of color, women, ­LGBTQ people, and their allies have
challenged the hegemony of whiteness and hetero-maleness within gam-
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ing culture in terms of both production and representation. Even as the


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mainstream industry continues to be dominated by heterosexual white


men, a huge diversity of people outside the industry, on the margins, have
been creating their own video games for years, beyond the focus of main-
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stream gaming culture.


Anna Anthropy, a transgender video game developer, took on game
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development and design because she was fed up with the AAA offerings
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of limited character development and clichéd story lines. Using Game


Maker, a novice-friendly computer program, she began creating her own
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games. Accessible game design tools enable communities traditionally


excluded from the power structures in gaming to participate and create
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their own innovative games. Anthropy has also employed Twine among
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other platforms for her games, which range in cultural and political con-
text. They include Keep Me Occupied, a collaborative two-player arcade
game featuring Occupy protesters in Oakland, California, who are sub-
jected to tear gas and grenades, as well as Dys4ia, a game based on the
creator’s experiences with hormone replacement therapy. Her critically
acclaimed games often repurpose traditional game mechanics and

Introduction  7

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narratives in provocative ways. In a gaming context that often privileges
battle and competition, and in an era where the term social justice warrior
is often deployed as a slur and a rhetorical insult, it becomes imperative
to shield oneself from the attacks of those threatened by diversifying
content in gaming. Anthropy notes that her content has been influenced
by queer scholars such as Audre Lorde and alternative comic writers like
Diane DiMassa, with their focus on queer love and transidentity (Lipinski

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2012). While not all her games feature queer content, Anthropy states that

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her queer identity is always visible and influences the narratives she con-
structs around her games.

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These examples and others make evident some of the ways in which
game makers have sought to tear down the walls of the hegemony of gam-

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ing and demand equity in each and every space. They demonstrate the

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potential of games as teachers of alternative narratives and histories, as
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challenges to the ideologies of hate, persistent inequalities, and violent
injustices. They model the possibility of games giving voice to the experi-
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ences, (intersectional) identities, and histories of otherwise marginalized
and erased communities. While current gaming culture systematically
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embraces ideologies that make clear that white males lives are the only
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ones that matter, it’s clear that games can show that all lives matter, rep-
resentationally and materially.
Games can also foster critical dialogue, as shown in the ways that
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discourse surrounding games and gameplay have opened up key conver­


sations about the histories of minstrelsy and cultural appropriation, and
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around misogyny and rape culture. Calls to challenge gaming for its reli-
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ance on representations and narratives of Blackness as criminal, female


as sexual object, Asian as exotic, Muslim as terrorist, and so much more,
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not only demand shifts in representations but also speaks to larger politi-
cal, social, and lived contexts. To change gaming in an effort to change
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culture—to use gaming as an instrument and technology within larger


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social movements—is to bolster the toolbox for justice.

Misogyny, Rape Culture, and Gamergate


Games are a significant cultural force, as is evident in the connective tissue
between the gaming pedagogies of violence and the 2016 election. Rape

8 Introduction

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culture, toxic masculinity, and homophobia are ubiquitous to gaming, not
only reflecting these ideologies but also existing as teachers, pedagogies,
and platforms for the dissemination of dehumanizing representations and
ideologies of injustice and violence. The injustices that predominate gam-
ing culture also sit at the core of the political, social, and communal
arrangements of mainstream US culture.
We see the importance of games in examining the relationship

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between rape culture and the objectification of women as sources of male

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pleasure and domination (Malikowski and Russworm 2017; Benstein 2013;
Fox, Bailenson, and Tricase 2013; Salter and Blodgett 2012; Dill, Brown,

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and Collins 2008). Gaming culture is rife with the realities of #MeToo.
As noted by the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault in “Gaming

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Culture and Rape Culture: How #GamerGate’s Misogyny Prevents a Safer

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Space,”
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In current gaming culture, the connection between sexuality
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and violence in games supports a misogynistic version of reality,
in which the majority of heroes are males displaying their mas­
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culinity through violence, and women are serving as background


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characters to be objectified. As a result, gaming culture is mir­


roring, and perpetuating, rape culture. The problems that exist
in gaming culture not only relate to the visual representation of
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women, but also through the language used by gamers in their


interactions with their counterparts. Technology now provides
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ample opportunity to interact with others in the game, which has


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led to a normalization of violent language to match the game’s


level of violence. Name-calling is a standard practice, and studies
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show female gamers receive higher levels of taunts and sexually


aggressive remarks while playing than men. As a bonding method,
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teams assert their dominance by using sexually violent language,


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often referring to winning or beating a player as “raping” them.


Perhaps without knowing, their consistent use of this language
minimizes the seriousness of sexual assault. With 1 in 5 women
and 1 in 71 men experiencing sexual assault in their lifetimes,
these violent interactions impact survivors in what should be a
safe space.

Introduction  9

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These effects and the presence of rape culture and misogyny (Shaw
2015) within video games and gaming culture was fully realized during
the 2014 controversy known as Gamergate (Quinn 2017).
During Gamergate, the divisions and fissures, inequalities and unspo-
ken violences that were longstanding within video game culture bubbled
to surface. Despite the civil war (Jilani 2014) trope that came to define
Gamergate, the moment was not a battle between two equally powerful

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constituencies. In the face of criticism from feminists, people of color, and

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other critical voices, “‘gamer culture and traditional conservatives” (Jilani
2014) sought to not only demonize but also silence those who sought to

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change gaming culture.
Lamenting political correctness, multiculturalism, and the betrayal of

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gaming tradition, Gamergate also empowered this narrative of white male

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victimhood. Gamergate was defined by such belief: It was not that women
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in the video game industry were unfairly treated; it was not that people
of color were rendered invisible through stereotypes within game spaces;
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it was not that gamers of color and women endured mistreatment online.
The injustices within gaming could be found in oppression and unfair
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treatment of white males. As such, the self-appointed heroes of Gamergate


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were white men who dared to challenge political correctness. They wanted
to make sure games stayed great. Seeing change as a threat, they fought
to preserve the hegemony of white male hetero gaming and gamers. Not
of

surprisingly, the contested ground that lay at the foundation of the racial
and gendered culture wars that became visible during Gamergate would
ty

become fully visible during the 2016 election. The white grievance politics
rsi

that coalesced around the candidacy of Donald Trump propelled Gamer-


gate as well.
ve

In so many ways, Gamergate predicted and sowed the seeds that


sprouted the Trump presidency. Two months before the 2016 election,
ni

Amanda Marcotte wrote:


U

For those who survived Gamergate, a 2014 dustup over the place
of women in the video-gaming world, the 2016 election is instill-
ing a deep and unpleasant sense of déjà vu. It’s not just that
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his acolytes
are playing to the same grievance about “social justice warriors”

10 Introduction

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 10 6/15/18 11:02 AM


who dare to think that white men should share power with women
and people of color. It’s that Trump and his men are using the
same tools as the Gamergaters: gaslighting, projection, working
the refs and leaning heavily on often subconscious double stan-
dards that allow white men to have more benefit of the doubt
than others.
What’s really terrifying is that for a surprisingly long time

s
Gamergate worked: For months, anti-feminists in the tech world

es
were extremely effective at undermining feminists and creating
the illusion that a bunch of bullies might have legitimate griev-

Pr
ances. Eventually, most witnesses to Gamergate woke up and
saw it for what it was. I have no doubt the same will happen with

n
the Trump campaign. Even if many people don’t get it right now,

to
history will remember the campaign as a black mark on our
democracy, forged in bigotry.
ng
hi
Similarly, in “What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-
right’,” Matt Lees highlights the parallels between Gamergate, the rise of
as

the alt-right, and the Trump presidency. The shared opposition to truth,
W

the propensity to see themselves as victims of feminists, people of color,


and the Other, and the embrace of bullying, can be seen within each
“movement.” Each has embraced online technology to not only articulate
of

their grievance politics but to silence, demean, and terrorize opposition.


From this perspective and history, we can understand Gamergate as a
ty

movement that focuses on white men’s anxieties over losing ground in


rsi

a universe assumed to be homogenous. The rallying point that emerged


was retaliation for the recent increase in feminist critiques of video
ve

games and gaming culture (Chess and Shaw 2014). This toxic technocul-
ture and geek masculinity positioned itself as a victim in the social justice
ni

warrior era (Massanari 2017; Gray, Buyokozturk, and Hill 2017). As schol-
U

ars have noted, the culture and subculture within gaming focuses on white
men, targets white men, and is dominated by male perspectives (Gray
2012). Before Gamergate, when women and people of color breached this
assumed norm, they were targeted using symbolic violence, which was gen­
erally relegated and contained as isolated incidents between a few individ­
uals. The events of Gamergate, however, revealed that women, especially

Introduction  11

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 11 6/15/18 11:02 AM


those who publicly oppose marginalization and symbolic violence, were
met with real violence outside of these games. The public harassment of
Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu, among others, who
endured highly publicized doxxing, rape threats, and death threats, serves
a an example of this shift.
When Gamergate began, Zoe Quinn was the first woman who was
targeted and experienced violence in both physical and digital settings.

s
She was accused of trading sexual favors with journalists for positive

es
reviews of her game Depression Quest. Initially the target of symbolic vio-
lence, Quinn was shamed for crafting a non-traditional game and for

Pr
suffering from depression. Subsequently, her former partner, Eron Gjoni,
created The Zoe Post—a website on which he published his experiences

n
with Quinn and claimed that she had sexual relationships with multiple

to
individuals during their relationship, potentially including gaming jour-
ng
nalists (https://thezoepost.wordpress.com). Quickly thereafter, Quinn
became the target of anonymous threats through Twitter and other social
hi
media outlets, and in August 2014 she was doxxed—meaning her personal
information (including address, phone number, and bank information)
as

was published online (Parkin 2014). These acts of violence jeopardized


W

Quinn’s safety, forcing her to flee her home.


Brianna Wu, also a video game designer, became another public, high-
profile target of Gamergate when she shared a meme poking fun at Gamer-
of

gate on Twitter. This meme was reworded to mock her instead, and came
with a slew of death and rape threats. When asked about harassment from
ty

Gamergate, Wu stated “[t]he truth is, I’m a pretty visible woman in a very
rsi

small field. I think they see the changes I’m advocating, and it scares
them” (TransEthics 2016). As she was so public with her criticisms, the
ve

men of Gamergate embarked on a significant campaign to silence her.


However, Wu has continued as an active participant in the game industry,
ni

reminding us of the potential and power of changing the gaming industry


U

and how technology can be an instrument of justice and equality.


Similarly, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, another target of
Gamergate, has refused to be silent in the face of gaming injustices.
Known for her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” video series, Sarkees-
ian has been accused repeatedly of promoting feminist gaming at the
expense of white male gamers. In the aftermath of Gamergate, Sarkeesian

12 Introduction

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 12 6/15/18 11:02 AM


faced greater threats for her work. In October 2014, Sarkeesian was sched-
uled to speak at Utah State University. Following anonymous emails and
letters threatening harm to both Sarkeesian and those who attended her
campus presentation, the event was cancelled. One threat promised that
the lecture would become “the deadliest school shooting in American
history” while another stated, “one way or another, I’m going to make
sure they die” (McDonald 2014). Though no one was harmed, the threat

s
of real violence was significant.

es
These attacks have come to define gaming culture. Challenges to the
lack of diversity or the gross stereotypes promoted by mainstream games

Pr
are often met with demonization and rhetorical violence directed at those
who merely seek to help gaming reach its fullest potential (Everett 2017).

n
While responding to attacks on specific individuals and acts of prejudice,

to
discrimination, and microaggressions, we must also examine the struc-
ng
tural and institutional factors that allow them to exist. The daily practices
of gaming continue to sustain what Mark Anthony Neal calls micro-nooses
hi
and a violent lived reality for many on and offline. The stakes are too high
to ignore the harm of games and turn our backs on the technological pos-
as

sibility of interventionist games.


W

Justice in the Ashes of Gamergate


of

This collection grew from the ashes of Gamergate. We seek to follow in


the footsteps of those who have challenged how games have furthered the
ty

military industrial complex, justifying our state of perpetual warfare


rsi

(Payne 2016; Huntemann and Payne 2009; Leonard 2004). It moves for-
ward in memory of #TrayvonMartin and #SandraBland, in this moment
ve

where Black Death is a source of white pleasure, where Black bodies have
been a part of the entertainment structure for white audiences (Glenn and
ni

Cunningham 2009). This trend continues within video games and gaming
U

culture. To be immune from violence, to be insulated from injustice, to be


able to cash in on the privileged encoded by/in white supremacy, misog-
yny, and heteronormativity is a source of pleasure. The collective efforts
of the authors of this text seek to move the conversation beyond the criti-
cal examination of the virtual pedagogies of racism, sexism, and homo­
phobia to rightly examine the role of digital games as purveyors of violence,

Introduction  13

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 13 6/15/18 11:02 AM


as spaces for the normalization of violence and domination, as sites for
the consumption of worlds that privilege the American empire, militarism,
and white male heroes. We seek to highlight and celebrate games and
gamers that demand change from within games and beyond.
We find inspiration not simply in fighting these injustices and in iden-
tifying the connective tissue between gaming and lived violence, but in
sites of resistance. We find hope in the growing number of “diversity-

s
minded developers constructing game worlds around ‘sheroes’” (Everett

es
2016, xii). And we see alternatives with Dean Chan’s (2009) discussion of
Joseph DeLappe “pacifist act of civil disobedience” while playing America’s

Pr
Army. According to Kathleen Greg (2006):

n
Joseph DeLappe is careful about typos. In the multiplayer war

to
game America’s Army DeLappe can see the soldiers around him
ng
advancing, but he doesn’t care to join them. Logged in as “Dead_
in_Iraq,” DeLappe types the names of soldiers killed in Iraq, and
hi
the date of their death, into the game’s text messaging system,
such that the information scrolls across the screen for all users to
as

see. DeLappe’s goal is simple: He plans to memorialize the name


W

of every service member killed in Iraq.

Such interventions not only reveal the possibility of games and gaming
of

technology, of “video games of the oppressed” (Dyer-Withford and Peuter


2009, 197), but also hold the potential to redefine the gaming community.
ty

These sources of opposition are as much reflective of gaming as those


rsi

individuals and games that perpetuate inequality and violence. People


such as Joseph DeLappe, Anna Anthropy, and Anita Sarkeesian, or games
ve

like Depression Quest, Never Alone, and We are Chicago define games as much
as Grand Theft Auto and Gamergate.
ni

As such, this collection seeks to document the voices, games, and


U

dreams that persist in the face of blockades, gamekeepers, and a culture


of violence. These contributors and the world they illuminate give us hope,
all while reminding us that we must not cede power or control to those
who use tiki torches, virtual spaces, and hashtags for the sake of power
and continued domination.

14 Introduction

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 14 6/15/18 11:02 AM


Awake and Hopeful
From these chapters, we see possibilities in the endless examples of “play-
ing against the grain” (Chien 2009), whether as game modifications, cul-
tural interventions, or the embracing of collective resistance. Despite the
hegemony of gaming practices that “require algorithm-like behaviour from
players” (Chien 2009, 250), change exists because of the agency and cre-

s
ativity of gamers (Everett 2016; Peuter 2015; Meads 2015, Frasca 2004).

es
From gamers to games themselves, we agree with Tanner Higgin (2009)
who writes, “Video games do have the capability to generate emotional

Pr
affect while tackling complex and controversial narrative material” (254).
The chapters and the contributors reveal this truth not only in the gamers,

n
games, artefacts, and discourses that they spotlight here but also in their

to
own work and presence within the gaming community.
ng
We find hope in games like Sunset, Mafia III, and Watch Dogs 2 that create
worlds where Black humanity is fully realized and even celebrated. We
hi
appreciate the destruction of the slave economy on the shores of Haiti by
Adewale in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag Freedom Cry. We praise the fierceness
as

of Aveline de Grandpre from the same game, who becomes an assassin to


W

destroy the slave trafficking enterprise in New Orleans and successfully


liberates a slave community. We see possibility in characters like Marcus
Halloway in Watch Dogs 2, whose existence gives voice and power in Black
of

nerdom and hacking culture. We acknowledge Larae Barrett, who used her
voice and platform to advocate for oppression in the police state in The Divi-
ty

sion. These interventions are reflective of the efforts put forth by individuals
rsi

such as Tanya DePass and the #INeedDiverseGames initiative, which urged


more diverse content and more inclusion of diverse voices within these
ve

development spaces. We shout out to podcasters and live streamers who


make themselves vulnerable to harassment in spaces created by and for
ni

white men. Their digital practices illuminate innovative cultural practices


U

of creating and delivering content. We find hope and possibility in the work
of Safiya Noble and others who are challenging the ways that technology
not only reflects racial injustice but also perpetuates it. Our dreams and
reserved optimism emanates from the scholars, gamers, and games dis-
cussed in this volume, which collectively demonstrate how games can be

Introduction  15

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 15 6/15/18 11:02 AM


change agents at multiple levels. It is our hope that this collection builds
from these works and advances the work being done by so many gamers.

Woke Chapters: The Work of the Wakening


This volume gathers established and emerging scholars in the fields of
games, media, and cultural studies to interrogate individual and collective

s
experiences inside video games, gaming communities, and the industry

es
as well as address the structural factors impacting the reality and out-
comes of the same. Each of the authors considers the ways gaming holis­

Pr
tically operates as a medium with the potential for positive impact as well
as the replication and recreating of inequalities. Together, the essays in this

n
collection look for hope; for the possibility in gaming, gamers, and in the

to
industry to change not only the gaming world but the broader social
ng
inequalities that we experience both virtually and in everyday realities.
Part 1of this volume highlights the nature of gaming violence and how
hi
alternative readings, counter play, and oppositional gaming not only alters
game spaces but disrupts our collective relationship to destruction, may-
as

hem, and pain. The section begins with Rob Corver’s powerful focus on the
W

precarity of the body within gaming communities, situating ethics at the


core of the discussion of gaming and gamers. This essay rightfully acknowl-
edges the trend to continue discussing disembodied digital experiences.
of

By centering the body, this chapter makes the case for “the obligation of
gamers to act ethically and non-violently towards other gamers, non-
ty

gamers, in care-of-the-self and care-of-all-others.” Alternative narratives


rsi

are essential to disrupt the power that the hegemonic structure has cre-
ated, especially its violent overtones. Any broader transformation in gam-
ve

ing depends on highlighting alternate ways to envision traditionally violent


games and narratives.
ni

In chapter 2, “Power, Violence, and the Mask: Representations of


U

Criminal Subjectivities in Grand Theft Auto Online,” Rowlands, Ratnabala-


suriar, Noel, and Gmyrek explore the opportunities of subverting typical
violent play offered by the creator aspects of the game. While Grand Theft
Auto is typically associated with violence against women and stereotypical
representations of people of color, the authors focus on its mod culture,
which showcases creator and maker spaces. The powerful narratives

16 Introduction

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 16 6/15/18 11:02 AM


unveiled in the chapter demonstrate the potential to transform tradition-
ally hostile spaces by identifying alternate content and integrating digital
storytelling.
In part 2, we bring together two authors who focus on the economics
of gaming and the business dimensions of the global enterprise of games.
While recognizing profits, transnational capitalism, and the logics of neo-
liberalism, these authors reflect on how access shapes the intervention

s
possibilities of games. Directly challenging the structure of the gaming

es
industry is one necessary step in transforming it. One key myth, rooted in
unacknowledged privilege, is the notion that anybody can make games.

Pr
In chapter 3, Stephanie Orme powerfully questions this idea, along with
the question that has dominated critiques of equality and inclusivity: “If

n
people don’t like games the way they are, why don’t they just make their

to
own?” Orme explores the structural barriers that affect incorporation and
ng
a hegemonic culture that influences outcomes. Zixue Tai and Fengbin Hu
offer an important economic perspective within online gaming in chapter
hi
4 by highlighting the precarious existence of gold farmers in online gam-
ing in China. While their work isn’t specific to gaming alone, they reveal
as

how economics effect how gamers produce, consume, and engage with
W

gaming culture. While gaming concerns representation, including race,


gender, and nation, capitalist inequities also shape the economics of gam-
ing. This chapter demonstrates how gold farmers negotiate a volatile exis-
of

tence in the micro economy of gaming.


When we started this collection on the heels of Gamergate, we had no
ty

idea what was in store for this nation politically, culturally, and socially,
rsi

including the rise of President Trump and the reinvigoration of feminist


struggles. Part 3, on feminist gaming and counter representations, speaks
ve

to this moment. In chapter 5, Vysotsky and Allaway provide us with a


glimpse of this ongoing struggle, especially for women within the gaming
ni

industry. The culture of video games is both a microcosm of our moment


U

and the staging ground for a larger movement. While spotlighting these
shared histories, this section also provides a roadmap toward gender jus-
tice inside and outside the world of video games.
In chapter 6, “The Perpetual Crusade: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Religious
Extremism, and the Problem of Empire” Kristen Bezio continues the focus
on addressing structural inequalities by reflecting on how players

Introduction  17

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 17 6/15/18 11:02 AM


themselves can complicate narratives of colonialism and taking over space.
Discussions surrounding Tomb Raider heroine Lara Croft usually highlight
narratives that disrupt traditional gender norms and misogyny in games.
Demonstrating an intersectional approach to gendered analysis, Kristin
Bezio rightfully interrogates the continuation of Western imperial per-
spectives, Islamophobia, and colonial paradigms in video games.
Andrea Braithwaite examines the 1990s girls’ games movement in

s
chapter 7, “Nancy Drew and the Case of Girl Games.” She simultaneously

es
demonstrates the historic nature of the gendered culture war in gaming
while elucidating the ways that resistance has produced alternative repre-

Pr
sentations within gaming culture. Similarly, Stephanie Jennings provides
a discussion on critical epistemologies in video game narratives by focus-

n
ing on her own auto ethnographic approach in chapter 8. This approach

to
to creating content and narratives in games disrupts traditional masculine
narratives and essentialist gender binaries.
ng
Amid a culture of sexism and misogynistic violence, the gaming indus-
hi
try has embraced the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion. In response to
protests, game developers have incorporated statements asserting their
as

commitment to producing diverse games and building an industry no


W

longer dominated by white men. The push to diversify is not simply about
demographics or public relations but building a culture of voices that
imagine more just and empowering realities. Diversity for diversity’s sake
of

is insufficient and is instead a starting point in the struggle for justice


inside and outside gaming.
ty

Part 4, “Gaming Against the Grain,” examines these counter narratives


rsi

and alternative realities, highlighting how games can do more than simply
contribute to brochure diversity. Specifically, this section focuses on whether
ve

gaming culture can foster critical consciousness, aid in participatory democ-


racy, and effect social change. It centers the silenced and marginalized,
ni

offering counter narratives to those post-racial and post-gendered fantasies


U

that so often obscure the violent context of production and consumption.


Despite the endless possibilities of gaming as spaces of disruption,
interruption, and transformation, games and the gaming world—whether
the industry itself or those inhabited by gamers—generally remains a
space of violence, bigotry, and harassment. In chapter 9, Karen Skardzius
looks at the supportive relationships for LGBTQ gamers in World of

18 Introduction

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 18 6/15/18 11:02 AM


Warcraft and explores norms established around sexuality and how those
who identify as LGBTQ are not extended full citizenship in the WoW com-
munity. Further, in chapter 10, “Managing Online Game Communities:
Lesson from Past Attempts, Players’ Experiences, and Workplace Strate-
gies” Amanda Cote moves on to a discussion of player experiences in
gaming communities. This chapter examines women’s responses to and
strategies in coping with online harassment. The alternative games and

s
alternative spaces that are created in gaming provide an engaging analysis

es
highlighting not only the structural and institutional factors perpetuating
inequalities that permeate gaming culture but also alternate versions of

Pr
what reality can be within these spaces.
Chapter 11 continues to examine the power to disrupt traditional nar-

n
ratives with an examination of The Legend of Zelda. Here, Kathryn Hem-

to
mann explores fan fiction and fan generated content to reflect on what
ng
different content players would like to see. What kinds of stories might
they tell? The fans who propel these industries have perspectives that are
hi
not valued by the gaming industry. Hemmann suggests that change will
come through harnessing the creativity and voices of fans. In offering the
as

above framework, this chapter adheres to the volume’s purpose by being


W

grounded in the concrete situations of marginalized members within gam-


ing culture. It reveals that despite the violence and bigotry directed in the
real world at commentators, academics, content producers, and gamers
of

who have spoken out about the persistent sexism, racism, misogyny,
homophobia and other injustices in the gaming space, counter narratives
ty

and alternative voices, games, and spaces for the articulation of “freedom
rsi

dreams” (Kelley 2002) abound.


Given the post-racial rhetorical turn of the last eight years, it is impor-
ve

tant to push conversations about gaming and gamers beyond diversity to


expose the disconnect between rhetorics of multiculturalism and the
ni

struggle for justice and equity. Persistent contradictions exist between


U

ideals of inclusion espoused within the video game industry and society
as a whole and continued injustices within structural and institutional
con­texts. This final section highlights work that intervenes in the culture
of violence and inequity by focusing on how games have the potential to
foster change through empathy and compassion. While recognizing the
ways that racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and power shape the

Introduction  19

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 19 6/15/18 11:02 AM


potential for empathy, where certain bodies bestowed with the privileges
of humanity are afforded compassion and the politics of understanding,
these chapters reflect on the power, possibilities, and potential of human-
izing games of social change.
Chapter 12 examines this potential through the game Everyday Racism,
which attempts to generate empathy and pushes for more anti-racist con-
tent in games. As Fordyce, Neale, and Apperley outline, online spaces have

s
proven to be effective venues in building and supporting old racist prac-

es
tices. To combat this, scholars, activists, and everyday people have been
using these same technologies to thwart the effectiveness of racist orga-

Pr
nizing online. The Everyday Racism game explores how people of color
experience discrimination, particularly conveyed through mobile devices,

n
in order to elicit anti-racist responses. Fordyce, Neale, and Apperley offer

to
an important bridge to Barkley and Fogelson, who, in chapter 13, “Activ-
ng
ism, Awareness, and Sympathy in Video Games,” examine the potential
for persuasive games and serious games to increase empathy and effect
hi
social change. This chapter also assesses the ability of these games to
reach large audiences and have widespread appeal, concluding that nega-
as

tive opinions about games with social commentary limits their overall
W

success. Barkley and Fogelson note that simplistic narratives, aesthetics,


and gaming playability can limit audiences for these social transformative
games, at the same time that they suffer from unfair perceptions that
of

conscious games are just not fun to play.


The collection concludes with a powerful demonstration of how inclu-
ty

sive design can improve outcomes for marginalized users and generate
rsi

empathy as well. Illustrating that change and transformative possibilities


can come from fans, diversity in games, aesthetics, and design, Bertolo,
ve

Mariani and Conti show how in DiscrimiNation, a persuasive board game


that showcases a viable means to improve social inclusion and communi-
ni

tarian comprehension, games can inspire, inform, and enrich in the name
U

of justice and equality.


In a moment of increased fear and the prospect of even more inequality
in every aspect of American life, where the already vulnerable face a dan-
gerous tomorrow, video games provide the language and tools to imagine
the world anew. The games, gamers, technologies, and movements dis-
cussed here point to endless possibilities. They imagine worlds based in

20 Introduction

1.Gray&Leonard, Woke Gaming.indd 20 6/15/18 11:02 AM


justice; they offer technology and other tools that can facilitate transfor-
mation. The public outcry associated with Gamergate has put why at the
forefront of game studies. Gamergaters, who gained media attention
through their misogynist and racist attacks on women gamers and devel-
opers, even tried to justify their campaign as an attempt to restore the
ethics needed in video game journalism. This attack directed at gamers
and fighters of social justice, those believers in a better tomorrow, brought

s
the hidden reality of harassment, cyberbullying, sexism, racism, homopho-

es
bia, transphobia, and other injustices to light. While the work continues
to be met with resistance, we see the power in community, in the persis-

Pr
tent demand to break down the virtual walls of segregation, in the chal-
lenges to the sources of inequality and injustice. Yet, being woke isn’t

n
enough. We must, as Angela Rye reminds us, always be awake and at work

to
in our disruption of the injustice of gaming or the worlds we each inhabit.
ng
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Bernstein, J. 2013. “The Scientific Connection between Sexist Video Games and Rape
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